DENVER -- Golden State's locker room was much more peeved than dejected after Tuesday's 107-100 Game 5 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
"They hit us with the first punch," said Warriors rookie center Festus Ezeli, breathing through his nose like a bull he was still so upset. "Just can't wait until the game on Thursday."
The Warriors knew Denver was going for the knockout. Admittedly, they were woozy after the Nuggets' early onslaught. But the Warriors left the Pepsi Center foaming at the mouth for another crack at Denver.
One of the youngest teams in the league got its first taste at trying to close out a team in the playoffs. The Warriors felt the desperation of the Nuggets. They endured Denver's increased physicality and stormed back from a 22-point deficit. Undersized and without starting center Andrew Bogut for most of the second half, the Warriors held the Nuggets to 41 points on 37.8 percent shooting and out-rebounded them 25-17 after halftime.
The deficit proved too big to overcome Tuesday. But Golden State, which now leads the series 3-2, certainly feels good about its chances in Game 6 on Thursday at Oracle Arena.
"We gave (them) a 20-point lead, and they did all they could to try to take us out of our game," point guard Stephen Curry said. "And we figured out a way to make it interesting down the stretch. I feel like our confidence is high."
Denver aimed its punches at the Warriors' head, focusing on taking it to Curry. The Nuggets put swingman Andre Iguodala -- a 6-foot-6, 207-pound exceptional athlete -- on Curry most of the game. And his teammates supported him by being physical with Curry, pressuring him, peppering him with swipes and bumps.
Coach Mark Jackson said the Nuggets had a hit out on Curry, accusing Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried of trying to hurt Curry's ankle early in the game. Jackson said he had inside information about Denver's scheme from someone who doesn't like that brand of basketball and didn't sign off on it.
"They were the more physical team. They were the aggressor. ... They tried to send hit men on (Curry)," Jackson said, later adding, "That's not good basketball."
It worked as Curry finished with 15 points on 7-of-19 shooting, including 1-of-7 from 3-point range. Golden State as a team struggled offensively. The Warriors came into the game shooting 53 percent and averaging 112 points for the series. Tuesday, they shot 43.2 percent.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets had their way, racking up 66 first-half points on 46.2 percent shooting. Denver led 86-65 with 2:45 left in the third quarter and seemed on its way to a comfortable win.
But a fourth-quarter surge put some fear in Denver. Down 19, Golden State ran off eight straight to change the tenor of the game.
Curry began to take over the game. His drive-and-kicks set up a Klay Thompson 3-pointer, cutting the deficit to 93-84 with just shy of seven minutes left, and then a layup for rookie center Festus Ezeli.
At the 5:09 mark, Curry's 3-pointer cut the Nuggets lead to 96-91. Denver's lead was still five after guard Jarrett Jack followed a Faried dunk with a floater in the lane. With Denver up 100-95, the Warriors had two excellent chances to get closer, but Curry missed an open 3-pointer from the right wing. Thompson, after it bounced straight to him in the corner, then missed another 3-pointer.
On the other end, Wilson Chandler hit a backbreaking 3-pointer for Denver at the 1:26 mark. The Nuggets iced the game with a lob to Iguodala and another to Faried to put the Warriors away.
For Game 5 anyway. Because it seems Golden State is certainly looking forward to putting the Nuggets away in Game 6.
"This one stings," Thompson said after totaling 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting. "It would've been nice to have a few days off. We just have to play like it's game seven on Thursday. Treat it like it's our last home game."